Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode (Stoker, 2013)
Cakes are a staple of Park Chan-Wook's films. The tantalising Baker's Shop in Lady Vengeance reflects the delicious intricacies of the titular Lady's plan, and the dazzling white cake symbolises a purity she is desperate to regain. In Thirst, a fat patient regales us with a tale of generosity, of how he gave up his cake to a starving mother and daughter, foreshadowing his charity of blood later in the film. At the beginning of Stoker, the cake is a birthday cake, and it's candles are choked out as the life of Mr. Stoker ends, and the innocent of another is snuffed.
Mia Wasikowska is wonderfully cast here as young India Stoker, a pallid and acutely intelligent being, all sonorous eyes and perfectly downed frocks, now fatherless and in the care of an inept mother. She perceives the world in alarming detail: an eggshell cracking is magnified to supernatural levels, a spider's leg's pluck at her nylon stockings as her fingers on a piano. Chan-Wook frames the world with these tiny details write large, emphasising the dual nature of his world to create a disquieting tapestry of Southern Gothic and stylish Korean tension, reminiscent of the nauseous patterns found in his earlier work.
The tale that is presented here, written by Wentworth Miller, is an economic and sombre tale of impertinent India's coming of age, and her unravelling of the history and motivations of her picture perfect uncle, Charlie, played with impeccable charisma and mendacity by Matthew Goode. Nicole Kidman, on fine form, displays lupine salaciousness as her mother, a woman desperate to relive the halcyon days of her marriage through the simulacrum of young Charlie.
As India's uncle circles, predatory, we're never sure exactly where his intentions lie, and Chan-Wook gently disturbs our preconceptions of this fledgling family arrangement with duplicitous imagery and subtle misdirection .In India he creates a conundrum of stoicism whose mask is occasionally dropped with split-seconds of thrilling violence, mirrored beautifully by Clint Mansell's score which is never more than a heartbeat away from erupting into calamitous electronic storms. Special mention should also go to the two haunting piano solos written for the film by Philip Glass that form the foundation of one of the most memorable scenes in the film.
With woozy fades between eye and egg, hair and grass, manually reflected by India flicking between two pictures in a book to create a third, Park Chan-Wook synthesises an unsettling hybrid in Stoker, the effortless blend of a girl's coming of age with brooding Southern Gothic juxtaposed his signature abrupt edits. This off-kilter thriller is brimming with dark imagery and although it is less likely to shock than his native language films, it is no less entertaining, and a confident foray into Hollywood by one of the most talented directors of our time.